Lloyd Hunter

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The era of so-called territory bands was a time when the abilities of a big band to travel were severely limited, thus confining groups to certain areas. Trumpeter Lloyd Hunter led bands out of both Omaha,…
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The era of so-called territory bands was a time when the abilities of a big band to travel were severely limited, thus confining groups to certain areas. Trumpeter Lloyd Hunter led bands out of both Omaha, NE, and St. Louis, MO. Although groups like his had nowhere near the impact on the national big band scene of a Duke Ellington Orchestra, a great amount of influence filtered down nonetheless through various players who passed through the ranks. Hunter not only was the boss of solid jazz players such as Paul Quinichette and Sir Charles Thompson, he seemed to have a particular knack for picking up drummers named "John" who would later become extremely famous. One such drummer was "Papa" Jo Jones, (real name Jonathan Jones), whose work with Count Basie is some of the best big band drumming in history. Another was Johnny Otis, who played drums for Hunter years before he became famous fronting his own R&B revue, in itself another training ground for great players. A further area of interest in Hunter's career is his involvement with female musicians, which went way beyond the cursory or altogether nonexistent efforts of his peers. The blues singer and bandleader Victoria Spivey was one of Hunter's main collaborators, serving as musical director of his band and also using this unit to back her up on her own recordings. It couldn't have been easy being a black man, let alone a black man playing jazz, during this period. Hunter's inspiration and perhaps some of his courage came from the turn of the century bandleader and musician Josiah Waddle, who was organizing all-black bands in the Midwest well before the beginning of the 20th century. Waddle also went on to find a particular niche organizing a band composed of only women a dozen years later. He took Hunter under his wing, utilizing him as a sideman once he had received enough training. Hunter turned out to be one of Waddle's most famous trainees, something which brought the older man great satisfaction. His former student had become something of a cultural hero to him, accomplishing the same thing he had done, but on a grander scale. Both men helped black culture flourish in Nebraska, something that had seemed like an outright impossibility to Waddle in the late 19th century. Decades later, it was still not such smooth sailing for Turner, not that there are that many places to sail in Nebraska. The music itself became an issue when the trumpeter and his fellow players began to realize the new, exciting rhythmic style that was developing was associated with black Americans and some of the Nebraska folk weren't too eager to mingle. Sometimes this new music was called jazz, but not among the musicians. This has been pointed out repeatedly in interviews and oral histories focusing on territory area band players. For example, from the Chicago Jazz Institute's history of Preston Love: "When I was young, whites applied that word to black people's music...It's not a respectful word. We used it only peripherally and jokingly. Duke Ellington despised the word. When I was with Lloyd Hunter, we'd go to little towns in Nebraska and they'd ask, 'Are you gonna play that jazz?'" The question was apparently asked with something of a negative tone.

Hunter's most famous band was the Lloyd Hunter Serenaders, based out of Omaha and eventually fronted by vocalist Anna Mae Winburn. In this performer a thread is established once again between Hunter and his mentor Waddle. In the early '40s, following her tenure with Hunter, the vocalist was leader of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an all-female group that worked for the rest of that decade. Other black bands in the Omaha territory included groups led by Red Perkins, Ted Adams, and Warren Webb. Hunter's group with Spivey boasted 11 players, including the phenomenal Jo Jones. The most famous of Hunter's recordings is the tune "Sensational Mood," which he cut in 1931 for the Vocation label.